Florence is rich with culture and stands out from the rest for its distinctive fusion of history, art, and cuisine. The cobblestone streets are lined with inviting restaurants and the museums are filled with famous Renaissance art pieces. You might be wondering what an oil painting from the thirteenth century has in common with a dish piled with handmade pasta. When you examine the history, tone, color palette, flavors, and mood of each, there may exist some common ground and ways to tie two very different things together.
With that said, I have composed a list of famous artworks that might emulate a similar essence or elicit similar feelings to traditional Florentine and Tuscan dishes. Hopefully, it inspires you to immerse yourself in the culture amid the tourist season. Whether it means stopping in a local trattoria and giving a new dish a try, or visiting the Uffizi Gallery and seeking out a painting in particular that excites you during your time in Florence.
The scudo con testa di Medusa or shield with Medusa’s head was painted in 1597 by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. The portrait captures her powerful gaze moments before her death after her head was severed.
If you are intrigued by Caravaggio’s Head of the Medusa, you might like the Tuscan dish peposo. The toughest cut of meat is slowly cooked at low temperature in garlic, red wine, and most importantly, lots of pepper. The recipe comes from the Brunelleschi era. The low-maintenance dish was said to be enjoyed by Brunelleschi’s workers constructing the Duomo who enjoyed pots of peposo during their lunch break. They roasted peposo in a terracotta vase next to the bricks in the oven. The tough cut of meat was common among the poor.
Trattoria 4 Leoni is an excellent spot to give this tender classic a try. Medusa’s intense expression projecting outward on the concave, the mirrored shield might be similar to your first bite of the powerful peppercorn projected by the dish.
Via dei Vellutini 1r; 39-055-218-562; 4leoni.it
The title which translates to “Spring,” is one of Sandro Botticelli’s most famous pieces. Primavera dates back to its creation between 1477 and 1482. The artwork combines flowers, movement, dancing, and pops of color to represent spring. It is said Botticelli could be depicting a feast in celebration of the arrival of spring, which was a pagan ritual.
Primavera shares a similar essence to the pastry Schiacciata Fiorentina. It is traditionally served during Carnival, an Italian holiday that annually celebrates the arrival of spring. The decadent cake is sandwiched in between a layer of sweet crema (whipped cream or pudding) and topped with a Giglio, or Florentine lily, in powdered sugar. Primavera (and Carnival) embodies a time for renewal, enjoyment, and love that the painting represents. A bite of Schiacciata Fiorentina will feel like a sweet celebration and parade in your mouth.
Forno I Tre Pini is one of many pasticciere that serves the delicious pastry. It might even give you a powdered sugar-rimmed mouth that is much worth the mess.
Via de’ Ginori 54r; 39-055-287-606
The beloved biblical figure and “perfect man” is visited by over a million people a year. Galleria dell’Accademia
Italian artist Michelangelo created the world-famous marble sculpture standing 17 feet tall between 1501 and 1504. It serves as a symbol of Florence and its strength. Today, the masterpiece with great attention to detail can be admired at the Galleria dell’Accademia.
If Florence’s most famous piece of art is exciting to you, then you should try one of its most famous dishes, Florentine steak. The high-quality cut of steak served on the T-bone is cooked rarely, simply seasoned with salt, and served possibly with a drizzle of olive oil and no condiments. It is certainly a form of art to cook.
The large cut of meat, usually served at room temperature, and with flaky salt to sprinkle Il Latini. Alexis Lirtzman for The New York Times
Il Latini serves an exceptional Florentine steak. This dish triumphs over all other meat dishes out there in size and quality, like the statue of David. Both are pure in their form and tend to be the main attraction when it comes to Florentine art and cuisine.
Via dei Palchetti 6r; 39-055-210-916
Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith Slaying Holofernes
“Judith Slaying Holofernes,” by Gentileschi. Gallerie degli Uffizi
The oil on canvas painting made in 1613 and 1621 is the second version of the original that can be visited today in Naples. Gentileschi, known for her paintings of strong women, freezes a moment in time when Judith and her maidservant beheaded the general in a drunken sleep.
If Judith Slaying Holofernes captivates you, then you might appreciate tasting lampredotto. Lampredotto contains slow-cooked trippa or tripe (the lining of the cow’s stomach) in broth, that is chopped, and seasoned with herbs. Served on a roll with a green or spicy sauce, the street food unique to Florence has a distinct taste that is juicy and flavorful.
The small stand in Piazza del Mercato Nuovo packs flavor in each bite of the Florentine street food staple. Alexis Lirtzman for The New York Times.
If you are on the hunt for a bite, Il Trippaio del Porcellino is the perfect food stand to experience an authentic taste. Judith Slaying Holofernes has complex, raw, intense feelings that are reminiscent of lampredotto. Be sure to grab a few napkins, because the sandwich is messy like the painting.
Piazza del Mercato Nuovo; 39-335-807-0240
Leonardo da Vinci’s Adoration of the Magi
The Italian Renaissance piece was commissioned by Augustinian monks in 1481. Unfortunately, Leonardo left for Milan a year later, abandoning the unfinished piece. The painting has many layers and characters, some that happen to be simply outlined, and others that you can tell are more complete.
In a sense, Adoration of the Magi can be suggestive of the dish, ribollita. The Tuscan bread soup is made up primarily of leftover bread, as well as white beans, onions, carrots, celery, and black cabbage. The recipe comes from the 12th century when peasant women would prepare large batches with stale bread and leftover vegetables. The warm comforting dish is commonly enjoyed in the winter and autumn season.
Ristorante del Fagioli also known as “Restaurant of the Beans,” knows what they are doing when it comes to this warm bean soup. Some certain ingredients and vegetables stand out more than others might, similar to how Mary and Magi stand out among others in the painting. The painting and dish share a similar (rather bland) tone and color scheme. The scene in the painting will leave you in awe, much like the taste of ribollita.
Corso dei Tintori 47r; 39-055-244-285